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Crisis Research Puts Meaning Into Headlines

Bond University researchers have found that headlines are a useful tool in predicting crisis events.

A research team, headed by Bond University Professor Mary Power, analysed thousands of headlines in leading newspapers in the UK, US and Australia which contained the word ‘crisis’.

Research team member and Bond University Public Relations lecturer, Hamish McLean, said the research, funded by a Bond University grant, aimed at finding new methods of identifying current issues in society that could become a crisis.

"With effective issues management, a proactive approach can be taken to resolve the situation before the crunch comes with disastrous results," he said.

”We have found there is something more to newspaper headlines than meets the eye when you look at the big picture across three countries."

Professor Mary Power said the 12 month study, released last month, found that 2006 newspaper headlines in all three countries predicted the current financial crisis.

“This has now unfolded in quite dramatic fashion,” she said.

Professor Power said the research provided a whole new meaning to the word ‘crisis’ in a headline.

“Rather than journalism hype, it in fact reveals a powerful predictor of events when measured against the use of the word for the same topics in other newspapers,” she said.

“Analysis of headlines provides ample warning for governments, and society itself, to plan for and respond effectively to a crisis.

“The word may sound dramatic and may sell front pages, but there is much more to it than that. The use of the word creates attention, is a call to action and can influence future action.”

Public Relations lecturer Hamish McLean said analysis of newspaper headlines should become a valuable ‘radar’ in managing issues.

“It allows governments and others to see beyond the immediate horizon.

“Forewarned is forearmed.

“Effective management of issues to prevent a crisis depends on an organisation’s ability to identify and resolve problems before they become a crisis,” he said.

The study found that United Kingdom newspapers were the most frequent users of the word in headlines, while the US papers used it the least. Three major US papers, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and the Philadelphia Inquirer did not use the term in any headline during the year.

Newspapers that frequently used the ‘crisis’ word were The Australian, The Guardian (UK), The New York Times and the Denver Post.

“Overall, US newspapers were very measured in their use of the word ‘crisis’,” Professor Power said.

The study found that crises in the three countries are linked to government mismanagement more than business. They labelled international relations as the top-rated crisis in 2006.

“Interestingly, the UK media more frequently labelled Iraq as a crisis, while the US media did not,” she said.

Professor Power said US and Australian newspapers rated terrorism against governments highly in future crisis events, while UK papers looked to population levels and health care.

“Australian newspapers also pointed to future water and skills as crisis events, along with environmental issues,” she said.

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